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Tainted Tomato Toll Tops 750

U.S. health officials still scouring farms in Mexico, Florida as source of salmonella contamination

THURSDAY, June 26 (HealthDay News) -- The victim count in the tainted tomato outbreak has risen dramatically again, according to the latest U.S. health count.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in numbers updated for Thursday, said it now had 756 reports of persons infected with Salmonella Saintpaul in 34 states and the District of Columbia. More than 300 of the cases come from Texas.

Patient ages range from under 1 year old to 99 years old. Half the victims are women.

In addition, at least 95 people had been hospitalized; there have been no deaths, the CDC reported.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has sent teams of investigators to Florida and Mexico as of last weekend to inspect farms, packing houses and distribution centers. There has been no word yet on what has been found.

The increase in people sickened by salmonella was not unexpected. Two weeks ago, the count was below 200; last week, it jumped to more than 380.

The CDC had predicted last week that for every reported case, there would be 30 more.

And health officials had warned that the end was not yet in sight.

"The marked increase is not due to new infections, but mainly because some states improved surveillance in response to this outbreak, and laboratory identification of many other previously submitted strains has now been completed," said Casey Barton Behravesh, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during a June 19 teleconference.

According to the latest CDC numbers, the victim count breaks down by state to: Arkansas (10 persons), Arizona (38), California (10), Colorado (6), Connecticut (4), Florida (1), Georgia (15), Idaho (3), Illinois (66), Indiana (11), Kansas (11), Kentucky (1), Maryland (25), Massachusetts (17), Michigan (4), Missouri (12), New Hampshire (3), Nevada (4), New Jersey (4), New Mexico (80), New York (18), North Carolina (5), Ohio (3), Oklahoma (17), Oregon (7), Pennsylvania (6), Rhode Island (3), Tennessee (6), Texas (330), Utah (2), Virginia (22), Vermont (1), Washington (4), Wisconsin (6), and the District of Columbia (1).

Last Friday, Dr. David Acheson, the FDA's associate commissioner for food protection, said the investigation into the outbreak had zeroed in on "a number of farms" in both Florida and Mexico.

"These farms along with their associated distribution chains are going to be part of an ongoing investigation," he added, noting, "We do not have a specific farm involved in the contamination; we have to look at the whole chain."

Health officials have said all along that the bulk of the tomatoes available at the start of the outbreak in mid-April had come from Mexico and parts of Florida.

Salmonella is a bacteria that can cause bloody diarrhea in humans. Some 40,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported in the United States each year, although the CDC estimates that because milder cases are not diagnosed or reported, the actual number of infections may be 30 or more times greater. Approximately 600 people die each year after being infected.

However, the strain of Salmonella Saintpaul had been previously considered rare. In 2007, according to the CDC, there were only three people infected in the country during April through June.

More information

Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more on the salmonella outbreak.

SOURCES: June 26, 2008, report, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; June 20, 2008, teleconference with David Acheson, M.D., associate commissioner for food protection, U.S. Food and Drug Administration; Ian Williams, chief, OutbreakNet Team, CDC

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